5 Excellent Bruce Springsteen Songs Not Found on His Studio Albums

Bruce Springsteen tends to write more songs than he’s able to accommodate on his studio albums. That’s an uptown problem, as it demonstrates how prolific the guy is. What’s even more impressive is that many of these leftovers, which have been released over the years on different compilation albums, are as good as the album classics.

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It wasn’t easy to choose just five songs of this type from The Boss’ incredible career. But we did it anyway, so let the debate begin!

“Zero and Blind Terry” (recorded in 1973)

This is one of the many wonderful tracks to be included on Tracks, Springsteen’s first big rarities dump released in 1998. “Zero and Blind Terry” didn’t make it onto the 1973 album The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, perhaps because it shared the same thematic space as “Incident on 57th Street” from the same record. The grizzled narrator of the song speaks as if at a bar stool, bothering younger patrons with his tall tales. He concocts a story of a gang leader and his girlfriend being chased by rivals (including the girl’s father). Evocative storytelling and one of the great all-time titles in the Springsteen catalog.

“Loose Ends” (recorded in 1979)

Springsteen originally slated this thunderous rocker for inclusion on a single-disc album entitled The Ties That Bind. But when he expanded that into the double album The River in 1980, he for some reason left off “Loose Ends,” much to the chagrin of guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who heard a potential hit in the song. The recording features the E Street Band at its most muscular and melodic. It’s also a song where Springsteen expounds on romantic relationships (and their pitfalls), a topic he didn’t often explore in his early years. Cue this one up and prepare to scratch your had as to why it went unheard for so long.

“None but the Brave” (recorded in 1983)

Springsteen wrote about 70 songs for his 1984 album Born in the U.S.A. (and still made eleventh-hour substitutions to the track list, including, most famously, “Dancing in the Dark”). “None but the Brave” didn’t see the light of day until a 2003 compilation album, and only then as part of a limited-edition bonus disc. Here’s another one that sounded like it could have been a hit. (Remember there was a time when Springsteen was suspicious of such songs.) It’s an elegiac tale of a guy paying tribute to a fallen friend, one who fell by the wayside through no fault of their own. Yet another song where he borrows a title from the cinema, a la “Thunder Road.”

“Shut Out the Light” (recorded in 1983)

Springsteen also wrote this one for Born in the U.S.A., but considering the topical similarities to the title track, you can kind of understand the decision to omit it. In addition, that album was full of musical moves that swung for the fences. “Shut Out the Light” takes a much subtler approach, but it’s no less powerful. Much pop culture about Vietnam veterans returning home, including “Born in the U.S.A.,” focuses on the less-than-stellar reception their country gave them. But here, the protagonist is feted by his family upon his return. That still can’t save him from the haunting feeling that he’s never left the hell of war.

“The Promise” (recorded in 1999)

This song dates back to the period when Springsteen was locked in a lawsuit with his former manager Mike Appel, one that prevented him from immediately recording the follow-up to Born to Run. He recorded a full-band version, but chose not to include it on Darkness on the Edge of Town, allegedly because he didn’t want to focus on the fight with Appel (even though the song only figuratively alludes to it). While that original take is fine, we prefer this piano-and-vocal version found on the 1999 compilation 18 Tracks. Springsteen underplays the vocal, which somehow only heightens the disillusionment at the heart of the story.

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